Monday, 5 September 2011

Little Munden, Hertfordshire

All Saints is breathtaking. The church stands on a bold escarpment in the centre of the parish and broods over Dane End like a sitting hen. Its partly circular churchyard and ancient yew may denote a pagan burial site. The building is one of six Hertfordshire churches that contain visible Saxon work. It had a priest at the time of the Domesday Survey. Nave and chancel are late 11th century. Remains of a solid Norman wall in the north-west corner suggest it then had a narrow aisle. This disappeared between 1340 and 1360 when Sir John Freville, Lord of the Manor, considerably altered the fabric. Between 1400-1450 Sir Philip Thombury undertook further reconstruction.

Of unique interest are two effigy tombs of exquisite workmanship that stand between the chancel and chapel. Although defaced by iconoclasts and incised by mischievous children, they are extremely well preserved for a country church. They represent Lords of Little Munden and are likely to be monuments of John and Philip Thornbury and their wives, 1380-1460. Their coat of arms is engraved on the tombs and their style of dress limit them to this period.

West Tomb

The simplicity and beauty of 14th century craftsmanship mark the monument of the pigeon chested knight. His armour and his lady’s coiffure confine them to the years 1380-1400. Sir John Thombury, Lord of Munden 1379-80, represented Hertfordshire in Parliament four times and died in 1396, being survived by his wife Nanarina, who lies in widow’s weeds beside him. His head rests on a lion crested tilting helmet from which hangs his lady’s kerchief. A mail head curtain, circled by a strawberry-leaved jewelled wreath, drops from bascinet to shoulders, and a thigh length mail shirt of banded rings peeps below his surcoat and from his armpits. The waist girdle enriched with flowers has on its right the remains of a chain from which hung the dagger of mercy, and on its left a sword now gone except for its point. His mail feet with spur ankle straps rest on a lion with an enormous tail. Another lion is outlined over his body. His wife has a beautiful face and ears. Her braided hair is held in place by a honeycombed nebule headdress with plaited front. A kerchief falls to her shoulders. She wears a tight fitting sleeveless bodice with cut-a-way sides and a low square neck with a centre pearl adornment over a kirtle that drops to her ankles. Her dainty pointed feet rest on two lap-dogs, and her head lies on a cushion behind which kneel mutilated angels with delicate toes. In trefoil niches on the sides of the tombs are eight beautifully proportioned figurines, three male, five female. Their attitude and attire do not signify mourning. They probably represent John and Nanarina’s children.

East Tomb

The knight of the large head with furrowed brow and worried expression lies under a keystone arch formed of two angels with feet in clouds. Their human faces were probably modelled on men of the village. That on the north has pugilist features, and the south angel has the surprised look of a man caught in theft. There is rich detail even down to the delicately formed finger nails. The knight wears pre 1450 armour - a skirt of six overlapping plates, shoulder roundlets, elbow plates and straps, pointed gauntlets and knee hausses. His waist is encircled by a bawdric sword belt enriched with diamond shaped pearls. His hair flows in dishevelled luxuriance from under a corolla of leaves and flowers with a jewelled centre ornament. The Lancastrian collar of SS dates him post 1400. He is Sir Philip Thombury, who inherited the manor of his father in 1396, represented Hertfordshire in Parliament, went to sea in 1404 with the King’s brother, Admiral Thomas Beaufort, and presented to the Rectory Richard Chapman (1398) and Thomas Poynour (1450). In his will of 1452 (proved 1457) he desired to be buried in Little Munden chancel, to the high altar of which he left 13/4d and to church repairs 20s. He prepared the handsome canopy arch tomb for himself and his wife after extending the chapel eastward. Margaret lies beside him in a low neck kirtle fastened across the bust with tasselled cords and dropping in escalloped folds to a fur-lined hem that almost covers the feet. From her neck hangs a triple pearl necklace with a row of squares and pendent cross. A rose fastens the mantle. A netted crispin holds her hair in two bunches and is covered by a kerchief that falls to her shoulders. She wears the outfit of a lady of fashion of the upper class. Her head rests on two cushions and is caressed by decapitated angels with delicate fingers. Her feet rest on a lap dog.

ALL SAINTS. The exterior is not very promising. The usual unbuttressed W tower with spike, the usual flint nave and chancel, and a N aisle with N chancel chapel, all much restored. The interior much more interesting. The first bay of the N arcade has imposts with capitals of the 12, if not the C11, of three projecting rolls with herringbone hatching (cf. Walkern). In the chancel S wall is a C12 doorway, very plain and much renewed. That proves a nave and a chancel eight hundred years old. Next come the C14 contributions, the N arcade of two bays with octagonal piers and double-chamfered arches and the W arch into the chancel chapel. In the E respond of the arcade three pretty little ogee niches for statuettes. Half a statuette is still in situ. The W arch between chancel and chapel has a big crocketed ogee gable and serves as the canopy to a MONUMENT for an unknown Knight and Lady (tomb-chest with shields in quatrefoils and little mourners between). The costumes are clearly of the later C14. To the E of this arch, early in the C15, another was opened to house a second monument. The tomb-chest here is plainer, the costumes indicate the date suggested. The arch of ogee shape and panelled inside with a row of lozenges with quatrefoils. In the‘ apex the figure of an angel. Also of the C15 the chancel arch and W tower. - SCREEN. From N aisle to N chapel. Plain C15 panel tracery.

Sir John and Nanarina Thornbury 1396 (4)

Sir Philip and Margaret Thornbury 1457 (7)

Sir John and Nanarina Thornbury 1396 (10)

Little Munden. Set in a network of narrow winding lanes, with a church crowning one of the rolling hills of this countryside, it has many old associations. At Dane End, nestling in a hollow at the foot of the hill, the cottages face the grounds of the great house. To the south-west is the modern Rowney Abbey, reminding us of Rowena Priory, a house for Benedictine nuns founded in the 12th century. Libury Hall, between the two Mundens, has a name old enough to be in Domesday Book, and is now a home for old and poor foreigners.

The flint church, with a sturdy 15th-century tower, stands in a churchyard glorious in spring with daffodils, and with a magnificent old yew among its trees. Most of the old work is 14th and 15th century, but the priest’s doorway is Norman, and the modern arch of the western bay of the nave arcade rests on Norman uprights with three rows of cable carved on the capitals. The rest of the arcade is 14th century, and in one of three dainty niches is part of a figure. The chancel arch is 15th century, the south doorway 14th. The roof of the nave has fine old kingposts and trussed rafters; there are kingposts in the old chapel, old benches in the chapel and chancel, and a 15th-century traceried screen between the chapel and the aisle, with the rood stairs and two doorways close by. Two of the bells have been here since the middle of the 15th century.

Under the arches of the chancel arcade are two tombs on which lie two 14th-century knights and their ladies, the men thought to be John Thornbury and his son Philip. Round the older tomb are shields in quatrefoils, and figures of sons and daughters. The pigeon-chested knight has armour with a rich belt, and he peeps from his fine ornamented helmet through a curtain of mail. A lion is at his feet, and two dogs are huddled at the feet of his wife who wears a netted headdress. The shaft of the 14th-century arch above them has been cut to form a canopy for the knight’s head. The other tomb is adorned with arcading, and is set under an arch carved with quatrefoils in lattice pattern, and angels holding shields. The two figures have extraordinarily big heads. The knight has armour with a rich belt and a collar with a pendant; round his head with long curling hair is a band beautifully carved with leaves and flowers and a jewelled ornament. His head rests on a helmet with a lion plume, and a lion is at his feet. His wife has a striking and elaborate headdress, beaded and draped, a mantle held by a rose clasp, and a triple necklace with a pendant.


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